ST. PAUL, Minn. — There were certain disadvantages to growing up the youngest, and smallest, in the Moore household, especially when it came to those street hockey games in front of the house in Thornhill, Ontario.
That is where Steve and Mark, older by two and three years, respectively, took no pity on brother Dominic.
"You learn," Dominic said, "to be a tough nut pretty quickly."
That description still applies to the center, who does just about everything for the Lightning and is willing to do it in the most disputed areas on the ice — in front of the net, where you fight for position, and along the boards, where you fight for the puck.
"The games that are the toughest are the games I enjoy playing," Moore said. "I guess it goes with the territory."
Moore, 30, is having one of the best seasons of his seven-year career. His 17 goals (with 13 assists) are a career best, as are his three winners. He has won 53.8 percent of his faceoffs, gets power-play time and is a mainstay on the penalty kill. He also has elevated his game at the season's most critical time, with three goals and four points in a three-game winning streak that Thursday clinched Tampa Bay's first playoff spot in four years. And though he is minus-14, he is plus-6 in his past 36 games.
That Moore has picked up the pace as the playoffs approach is no surprise to coach Guy Boucher, who had a close look last season as Moore had two goals and 11 points in 21 regular-season games for Montreal after being acquired from Florida, and four goals in 19 playoff games.
"People don't realize how valuable he is. That's why I was a big fan in trying to get him here," said Boucher, who coached Montreal's AHL affiliate at Hamilton. "When guys are better under pressure and when the game is tougher, you can't have enough of those guys. It's crunch time, and he's getting better."
Consider two goals: the winner in a 4-2 victory over Carolina on March 26 that snapped a four-game losing streak and a second-period tally Tuesday vs. Ottawa. Both came from in front of the net after Moore, 6 feet, 192 pounds, jostled or outmaneuvered opponents to create room.
"With Dominic, you always see his work ethic and attitude and especially his drive to the net," teammate Sean Bergenheim said. "We didn't do that in the bad stretch we had. He's really pointed us in the right direction."
Just as he undoubtedly will today against the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center, and as he did with his brothers, both of whom were drafted by NHL teams.
Steve played parts of three seasons with Colorado before an infamous blindside punch from then-Canuck/current Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi ended his career in 2004. Mark, drafted by Pittsburgh, played in the AHL. Mark, Dominic said, is 6-4, Steve 6-2.
"Anyone who has brothers knows how it is," he said. "That's the fun of growing up like that. We spent every hour on the street playing hockey. It was always Game 7. It was always a battle."
"You are a product of your environment, for sure," Boucher said.
In this case, that's a definite advantage.